BONIFAY – Known for his love of Jesus and animals, Wilfredo Emanuel Morales, owner of Ben’s Place Animal Rescue Shelter in Bonifay, passed away on May 2 at his residence.
Morales was born in New York City on June 22, 1957 to the late Gilberto and Justiniana Morales he was a graduate of All Hallows High School, receiving his B.A. in Political Science from Pace University and his M.P.A. from John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.
“When he was in college his Political Science professor dared him to run for office, telling him that if he really wanted to make a difference he’d have to be an elected official,” said his now widow, Julia. “He ran for school board and at the age of 18 was the youngest elected official in the state of New York. After serving several terms he was school board president before he left.”
His nephews, Jorge and Paul Salazar, said Morales was a father figure to them and said that when they lived in the Bronx Morales was an important member of the community, taking up the distribution of commodities from their ailing grandmother and raising money for school supplies for needy children.
“He was the only good guy with connections with the drug dealers because in our neighborhood if you wanted to do anything you had to get permission from the drug dealers,” said Paul. “When there were community events held to raise funds for the children there was never any trouble or fights, which was amazing because in our neighborhood there was always gunshots going off and sirens. He held block parties and fundraisers.”
His family explained that Morales faced a life-changing event when he was in the Marines and his platoon was hit with an Improvised Explosive Devise putting him in a three-month coma and killing the rest of his platoon. Morales was honorably discharged but his family said there was a noticeable difference in the way he acted, saying he had an amazing zest for life and a disregard for conventional etiquette, choosing to “live every day as if it were his last.”
Julia said it was because of crack that they finally left New York for Fort Lauderdale.
“The use of crack spread like wild fire through our neighborhood,” said Julia. “I would have to sweep crack pipes off of the front porch every morning so that the children wouldn’t play with them.”
Eventually they would find property in Holmes County, where he dreamed of open spaces and fresh air, Julia said.
“There were hardly any tree in the Bronx,” said Julia. “You should’ve seen him when we came to live in Holmes County, he was like a man tasting freedom for the first time with all of this open space and nature to enjoy.”
She said he was a Holmes County 4-H Agent and worked with the West Florida Wilderness until his diabetes “took his left eye,” putting him on disability.
It wasn’t long afterward that he created Ben’s Place Animal Rescue Shelter. Named after a good friend Morales took in animal and person alike as a Social Worker and humanitarian.
Paul and Jorge said that Morales instilled in them a strong work ethic, which enabled them to come into their professions today, which one is a doctor and the other a lawyer.
“He would bribe my friends to come over and then work them to the bone but every time they were invited over they knew they’d be put to work and yet they chose to come every time,” said Paul.
Jorge said that it was a gene in the family that caused one to be completely selfless.
“His mother had it strong and it was passed on to him,” said Jorge. “He was completely selfless, giving all he had and never looking after himself. I know there’s a little in all of us because of him and now it’s up to us to carry on his legacy of giving.”
Ben’s Place Animal Rescue Shelter is now closed and Julia begs the community not to bring animals to the shelter because she is not equipped to help them as Morales was.
“I thank the community for all their help,” said Julia. “Especially Alaqua Animal Rescue for taking over 70 animals in their care. Wilfredo would’ve wanted them to go to a no-kill shelter; he would’ve been very happy to know they are all taken care of.”
Expressions of sympathy can be made at http://www.jamesandlipford.com and Morales’ obituary can be viewed at www.Bonifaynow.com.